How Positive Innovation is Shaping Business Today

Businesses must adapt simultaneously to two growing trends. On the one hand, innovation is being placed in the spotlight more than ever, a phenomenon which is being accentuated by the development of new technologies, among other factors. Companies are required to alter their industrial and relational strategies in consequence. On the other hand, social and environmental concerns are becoming ever more important for clients, employees, and, more generally, all stakeholders in enterprise.

When these two trends converge, they generate an immediate and global value; the success of a company like BlaBlaCar is testament to this effect. For younger generations today, progress and environmental sustainability are intrinsically linked; at least as much as progress and consumption were for the generations before them.

We call this potential for innovation to contribute to its environment in a positive way 'positive innovation'. Positive innovation should be perceived as its own distinct category. This type of innovation, whether disruptive or not, enables companies to couple competitiveness with sustainable value. It is at the origin of "social business," of hybrid start-ups, even of new strategies in enterprise.

In the same way that large firms are looking to start-ups for new forms of innovation in technology and other domains, they will also need to look for positive innovation outside their own walls. More than any other type of innovation, positive innovation is not just a question of technology or R&D. It requires stepping outside the box and rethinking conventional models in order to integrate social thinking at the heart of economic problems. Developing a positive innovation, at least in the beginning, means pushing aside the seeming imperative of profitability and the types of decision-making typical of a large firm. This is the approach that was adopted by Danone with its "social business" Grameen Danone, and by Total when it launched Awango, its energy access program.

While positive innovation can spring up anywhere, it finds its most natural habitat in small, agile firms. This is why it is imperative to promote new forms of partnership between large firms and start-ups specialized in positive innovation. Bpifrance's Hub is working towards this goal by facilitating partnerships and promoting this new generation of innovation.

These atypical partnerships between large firms and small start-ups will allow for the emergence of new forms of internal organization; new ways of thinking about roles and skillsets, value chains and production. Positive innovations have an impact on all aspects of an enterprise: management, communication, business etc.

The Positive Innovation Club, launched by Sparknews, ensures that its members are able to better anticipate this transformation - by inspiring them to embrace change and to enter into dynamic relationships of collaborative co-creation. Leroy Merlin's "social business", which puts in place solutions for populations at risk of losing their housing, is a good example of this kind of adaptation. The design and implementation of this project required a series of actions; from identifying existing organizations, to finding partners and convincing the directors of the firm and various teams to get on board. Trying out ideas and going back to the drawing board. But the project was carried by the strong belief that social innovation enables the creation of value for a brand, the activities of a firm, and society as a whole.

Far from being a constraint, these positive innovations could well succeed in reconciling value creation with a positive contribution to the environment. Businesses will finally be able to move beyond their current limited sphere of activities in this field; which too often revolves around the reduction of negative externalities, routine "reporting" or regulatory compliance, and instead wholly participate in the development of a social and environmental equilibrium.

By Christian de Boisredon, the founder of Sparknews, Nicolas Cordier, in charge of "Social Business" and "Open Innovation" at Leroy Merlin and Paul-François Fournier, the Executive Director of Innovation at bpifrance.